Welcome to Hit Play, a monthly sampler of various film, podcasts, TV, memes, and music our pop culture writer Shauna Wootton consumes in her obsessive, unending quest to take in all media. Every edition is loosely curated around a specific theme. This month: Pride!
Reply All is an excellent, but not an inherently queer podcast. In a recent episode, Hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman unintentionally glossed over the history of the word “yas” (most recently of Broad City fame) and the resultant listener outcry led them down a fascinating rabbit hole of the true origins of the word in the 1980s drag culture. Listen to the second half of episode #69 for a crash course in the history of the New York City drag scene, including clips from the iconic documentary Paris is Burning, an interview with pioneering vogue-er Jose Xtravaganza, and a breakdown of all the language you didn’t even know you’d been stealing from all of the above. (Start from 19:45 to hear this particular story, although the whole episode, also every episode ever, is well worth a listen.)
Then go right ahead and dive into Paris is Burning itself. The 1990 documentary follows a number of drag queens and transgender women throughout the latter half of the 1980s and chronicles their competition in the famed balls of the era. It’s also an incredibly personal and often totally soul-crushing look at the reality of young gay African American and Hispanic life in New York City.
Daniel Mendelsohn’s 2013 New Yorker piece about his teenage correspondence with the author Mary Renault is equal parts heart-rending and fascinating. I was, before reading it, entirely unfamiliar with the one-woman powerhouse of formative 20th-century literary queerness that is Mary Renault, but I put two of her books on hold at the library before even finishing the article. Renault became something of an icon in mid-century gay culture for her uncloseted depictions of classical military figures like Alexander the Great in her sweeping opus of historical fiction. Mendelsohn’s piece spans the gamut of his own tenuous journey towards self-acceptance as a gay man, the importance of Renault’s work in his ability to do that and Renault’s own struggles with her sexuality and gender identity.
Last up, some lighter fare, one of my very favourite romantic comedies! Bedrooms and Hallways is a delightfully 90s patchwork of meet-cutes and extended eye contact, which gleefully subverts the sexual norms most other films of its ilk seem hell-bent on reinforcing. And while the gender politics are admittedly pretty dated, cringe-worthy lines like, “You have a penis, you’re a man,” are ameliorated to a certain extent by top-notch post-coital pillow burns like, “God, I love being a woman – not because of you, because of me.” Plus it’s just chock-a-block full of the sweetest and strongest little love stories, not to mention some of the tingliest sexual tension of any rom-com I know, without ever even going so far as to include an actual sex scene. In short, kick back, give 1998 a break, and enjoy Bedrooms and Hallways for what it is – a surprisingly wide lens on British male sexuality in the 90s.
Plus, be sure to take in the best of queer cinema at this year’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival. The 10-day film extravaganza kicks off on August 11 – you can find the full schedule and ticket information here.
– Shauna Wootton
Featured photograph by Tracy Thomas